Before another slate of games fire up this weekend, let’s check in with another ACC Rookie Report — led by Duke’s Paolo Banchero.
It’s an interesting season for ACC freshman. There’s a lot of talent at the top, including some surprising names. However, similar to how the league is situated, there isn’t much depth. Some of the better teams in the ACC — Miami, Wake Forest and UNC — barely feature any rookies in the rotation.
At this point, there are only seven freshman that have played 400+ minutes this season. It’s not the deepest pool to draw from, but let’s dive in.
Paolo Banchero, Duke, F/C
17.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 51 FG%
Paolo Banchero is so many different components of modern basketball — all wrapped into one player. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Banchero handles the ball with grace, especially in the open floor. With his size, vision and playmaking craft, Banchero is willing to throw pretty much any pass.
It’s possible to jam Banchero with strong ball pressure — defending inside his jersey. However, he’s very composed and his skill level is just so high. The degree of difficulty with some of the things he attempts speaks to Banchero’s creativity as a basketball player.
Banchero has run a fair amount of pick-and-roll this season as the the ball handler; Mark Williams is his usual screen partner. According to Synergy Sports, Banchero is shooting 41.7 percent this season as a pick-and-roll ball handler.
Often, opponents will switch those Banchero-Williams ball screens, which leads to a lot of midrange jumpers. Banchero has soft touch as a midrange shooter (41.5 FG%); however, it’s awesome when he sees a gap and decides to get downhill.
For the season, Banchero is shooting above 69 percent at the rim, including 20 dunks. This is part of the appeal for Banchero as a high-end draft prospect: ridiculous amounts of skill and power.
Moreover, this is what makes Bachero such a dangerous matchup-beater. He can take switches to the post and pass or score from every level of the floor.
Banchero’s also the newest master of the face-up stutter rip move.
In isolation, Banchero is a gifted scorer and a talented post-up player. He’s scored 1.05 points per post-up possessions this season, according to Synergy.
Banchero is one of four ACC players (50+ possessions) scoring at least 1.05 points per post-up possession this season — along with Armando Bacot, PJ Hall and Paul Atkinson.
The post is where Banchero creates a lot of contact, too. For the season, P5 has drawn 5.4 fouls per 40 minutes, according to KenPom.
Duke likes to isolate Banchero at the elbow or in the middle of the floor, where he’s especially dangerous.
Blake Wesley, Notre Dame, G
15.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals
Earlier this week, I put together a deep dive on Blake Wesley and Notre Dame’s offense, which has the Irish near the top of the ACC standings: check it out.
The upshot with Wesley: He’s a super talented offensive player, and there are reasons to buy his creation upside. Wesley gets to his spots on the floor, including the ability to pressure the rim with a live dribble.
According to Synergy, Wesley has scored 0.81 points per pick-and-roll possession this season. That’s No. 1 in the ACC among players with 100+ possessions; he’s above Cam Hayes, Terquavion Smith, Femi Odukale, Caleb Love and Dereon Seabron.
(Three NC State players, man. Kevin Keatts loves him some ball screens.)
With his length, Wesley is still able to get into gaps and finish around the rim with some really good craft. His performance at Illinois earlier this season — which is the game that thrust him onto the national stage — is one of the best outings vs. drop pick-and-roll coverage for a draft prospect this season.
(He also does a nice job applying his length on defense.)
Wesley’s shooting number aren’t great: 32.3 3P%, 69 FT%, 55.1 2P% at the rim. But there’s a degree of difficulty that gets baked into the cake: Wesley’s self-creation and shot versatility.
Notre Dame’s star freshman has no fear letting off-dribble shots rip from anywhere on the floor: 25 percent of his 3-pointers are unassisted. Wesley has put up his fair share of pull-up 3-point attempts. For the season, Wesley has an effective shooting rate of 48.4 percent, which ranks in the 80th percentile nationally.
He’s shooting a shade under 51 percent on 2-point attempts, too. Over 84 percent of his made 2-pointers are unassisted.
Trevor Keels, Duke, G
11.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 30.3 3P%
Trevor Keels arrived with a bang this season for Duke: 25 points (9-of-14 2PA) and three steals during the win over Kentucky. Since the UK game, Keels hasn’t been quite able to replicate performance; however, he’s been damn good for the Blue Devils.
Unfortunately, he’s currently dealing with a leg injury, which has kept Keels out of Duke’s lineup the last two games. Keels is progressing towards a return, although there’s currently no set date.
While the jump shot has been inconsistent (30.3 3P%, 69.8 FT%), the Blue Devils have experimented with Keels on offense. They’ve even tried using him in the post some this season, where he has a strength advantage vs. most/all college guards.
However, Keels is most comfortable running the break or operating in pick-and-roll action. During the season, Duke has used Keels in a lot of slot pick-and-roll.
Keels has scored 1.08 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler this season, according to Synergy.
Keels isn’t an explosive vertical athlete; he has just two dunks on the year. With his strength, though, Keels can be a serious source of rim pressure, which is crucial. Over 34 percent of his field goal attempts have come around the rim, according to Bart Torvik’s shot data (55.6 FG%).
Defensively, Keels is one of the top steals guys in the ACC and an intimidating on-ball defender. When he’s in the lineup, Keels sets the tone for Duke’s defense — working at the point of attack.
Along with FSU’s Jalen Warley, Keels is one of only two ACC rookies with 15 percent assist rate and three percent steal rate.
Terquavion Smith, NC State, G
14.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 35.7 3P%
Few players in the ACC are wired to score like Terquavion Smith. The rookie from Farmville is a pure scorer — with some untapped upside. Smith has really good range on his jumper and a quick release. He’s unfazed by missed shots, too. If he’s on the floor, Smith will continue to let it fly.
Currently, there are only three high-major freshmen with 23.5 percent usage who are also attempting 10 or more 3-pointers per 100 possessions: Jabari Smith (Auburn), Blake Wesley and Terquavion Smith.
Among all high-major freshmen, Smith ranks No. 2 nationally — launching 14.5 3-point attempts per 100 possessions.
Smith has made a killing spotting up around the maniacal downhill-drive game of the ubiquitous Dereon Seabron. It’s been really cool to see those two — over the span of the season — develop some really good chemistry.
Seabron has assisted on 26 of Smith’s field goals this season, per CBB Analytics, easily the most of any 1-2 combination on NC State’s roster.
They work perfectly together: Seabron as an electric driver of the basketball and Smith, the talented gunner who loves to float around and launch 3-pointers. Seabron is a strong creator of advantage; his rim pressure collapses defenses and creates open looks.
In 564 minutes together this season, the Wolfpack have an offensive rating of 110.5 points per 100 possessions with Smith and Seabron on the floor, according to Pivot Analysis.
(It warmed my heart to see NC State run its 1-4 Iverson Elevator Door set for Smith vs. Virginia Tech, which indirectly turned into an open 3-pointer.)
Smith ranks sixth in the ACC in spot-up efficiency — 1.09 points per possession (55.5 eFG%) — among players with 75+ possessions, per Synergy.
The next step for Smith will be to round out his offensive portfolio. Smith is a catch-and-shoot bomber; he can also heat up and make tough off-dribble shots. On nights when those shots aren’t falling, though, it’d be nice for him to have other stuff to focus on.
There have been flashes as a pick-and-roll passer, including this skip pass for a Cam Hayes corner 3-pointer; however, given Smith’s scoring gravity, he should be able to amplify these creation efforts as his career progresses.
Smith has attempted only 45 free throw attempts this season, which is low for a player with his usage. Per KenPom, he’s drawn just 3.0 fouls per 40 minutes, too.
The more he’s able to put pressure on the rim, the more Smith will be able to create contact, which should turn into easy points at the free throw line.
AJ Griffin, Duke, F
8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 45.8 3P%
I’ve gushed plenty about AJ Griffin this season. The limited, early-season flashes were so tempting. Since the start of December, though, it’s been incredible to watch Griffin come on as another star for the Blue Devils.
Griffin has shown enough to make a case for a top-5 selection in the 2022 NBA Draft, including (in recent weeks) a greater percentage of his looks coming at the rim. After attempting zero free throws through the first eight games, Griffin has 24 attempts from the line over the last 11 games. Those aren’t earth-shattering number, but it’s encouraging to see.
That has opened up additional playmaking opportunities for Griffin.
With a wide shooting base, Griffin has developed into one of the ACC’s top 3-point shooters. He’s obviously excellent shooting off the catch; Griffin has scored 1.22 points per spot-up possession this season, which ranks No. 6 among ACC players with 50+ possessions, just behind Wendell Moore Jr. (1.25 PPP).
Coach K mentions it frequently when discussing AJ’s game: he has one of the softest shots you’ll even find. The ball just floats out of his hands.
Accordingly, the Blue Devils have used AJ as an off-ball player this year, which is awesome for his development. He’s been featured coming off screens or dribble handoffs — as opposed to garden-variety spread pick-and-roll.
As good as Griffin is shooting as a spot-up target, it’s his isolation step-back shooting that really makes you wonder: What exactly could this guy become?
I mean, there just aren’t that many 6-foot-6, 225-pound (with a 7-foot wingspan) people on the planet that can moonwalk their way into step-back 3-pointers like this. It’s rare. He’s a special talent.
Of course, Griffin’s combination of size, shooting and two-way playmaking is the key for Duke unlocking its small-ball lineup.
Matthew Cleveland, Florida State, G/F
10.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists
Following in the footsteps of Patrick Williams and Scottie Barnes, Matthew Cleveland is the latest uber-talented freshman to come off the bench for Leonard Hamilton. While his shot has slumped this season (50.8 FT%, 16.7 3P%), Cleveland has been an impactful two-way player.
Cleveland is a wonderfully active player when he’s in the game. He manages to contribute in a variety of ways for Florida State.
The 6-foot-7 wing is one of only four first-year high-major freshmen with 22 percent usage, 15 percent defensive rebound rate and two percent block rate. He’s joined here by two of the top three prospects for the 2022 NBA Draft — Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith — along with Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma.
Most of his limitations on offense rear their ugly head in the half-court setting, although he manages to draw a lot of fouls (5.7 fouls drawn per 40 minutes in ACC action) and is a capable off-ball finisher as a cutter.
Cleveland, however, looks most comfortable as a finisher in transition.
For the season, Cleveland is shooting 71.6 percent at the rim, including 15 dunks. Currently, there are only four players in the ACC (6-foot-8 or shorter) with at least 15 dunks this season: Alondes Williams, Jake LaRavia, Dereon Seabron and Cleveland.
On defense, there’s a lot of upside here, too. He has the frame to guard a bunch of position types, which speaks to his versatility.
Cleveland can also cause havoc as a help defender. Florida State ranks inside the top 30 nationally in both block rate (13.8 percent) and steal rate (13.4 percent). Cleveland is a big part of that picture.
This display of help-side rim protection from Cleveland shouldn’t go unnoticed, either. The block is obviously awesome; however, it’s the presence of mind to rotate that’s so impressive. Florida State’s defensive system is a great place for young defenders to learn how to communicate, rotate and disrupt.
Assuming the shot eventually comes online, guys like this — who can defend different position types and protect the rim with weak-side rotations — tend to stick around on NBA rosters.
John Butler, Florida State, F/C
5.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 43.2 3P%
The 7-foot-1, 190-pound John Butler works as a hybrid forward-center for Florida State. However, in Leonard Hamilton’s switch-everything defensive scheme, Butler will defend all five positions. He’s a unique basketball talent.
Florida State will even use Butler as a point-of-attack defender — the player guarding the ball, setting the tone for every defensive possession. Butler is incredibly long and moves well laterally. As he gets stronger, Butler will be able to be even more disruptive on the basketball.
(Florida State has several guys that really get after it at the point of attack, including Anthony Polite, Cam’Ron Fletcher and Jalen Warley.)
However, Butler’s at his most impactful when he’s flying around as a help defender, another key component of FSU’s aggressive defensive scheme.
Offense is more of a work-in-progress for Butler, although his flashes have been absolutely tantalizing. Butler has just eight free throw attempts on the season, and he’s also turnover-prone (21.5 TOV%). That doesn’t mean Butler can’t play with the ball, though.
Despite the lack of rim pressure, Butler has been a solid situational play-finisher this season.
Currently, he’s on pace to become just the sixth high-major player — 7-foot or taller — to shoot above 40 percent on at least 35 3-point attempts. The list of players includes former lottery picks Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin) and Lauri Markkanen (Arizona), along with NC State’s Omer Yurtseven (2018).
With his length and quick release, even a hard closeout is just something for Butler to shoot over. Butler can get his spot-up jumper off whenever he wants.
- Jaeden Zackery, Boston College, G
- 44.9 3P%, 2.6% steal rate
- Deebo Coleman, Georgia Tech, G
- 46.2 3P%, 2.5% steal rate
- Jaeden Zackery, Boston College, G